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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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Billie the Brownie: Milwaukee's forgotten icon?


Milwaukee has seen its share of advertising icons, from Crazy TV Lenny to the personified Klement's Sausages. But once upon a time, a little elf named Billie the Brownie innocently -- and successfully -- sold products to Milwaukeeans.

Billie the Brownie was born in the minds of advertising creatives in 1927 to promote Schuster's Department Store, one of Milwaukee's most popular shopping palaces of the era. Billie was so popular that he later earned his own 15-minute radio program.

Although the dough-faced elf's popularity among Milwaukeeans soared through the '40s and early '50s (in 1947 Billie received 100,000 pieces of fan mail), Schusters' executives decided Billie was not mod enough to make it on television and layed the little guy to rest in the mid-'50s.

Billie's last radio show aired on Christmas Eve 1955, after a "Billie the Brownie" doll failed to sell in Milwaukee stores.

Over the years, Billie the Brownie has "reappeared" at various Milwaukee events, but not surprisingly, has never been embraced by locals as he was way back when.

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